TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida House on Thursday began debating legislation that aims to crack down on violent protests.
Democrats proposed adding five amendments to House Bill 1 in an effort to water down the bill, which critics say will impose on people’s rights to peacefully protest.
The legislation was written in response to the burning of buildings in the Tampa Bay area in June and windows smashed in Tallahassee, among violent unrest elsewhere in the state.
“It protects the businesses from the destruction of property. It protects police officers who are there protecting against violent protests,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls said of the bill.
Opponents claim the legislation will stifle peaceful protests, a criticism Sprowls took issue with.
“That is totally and utterly false,” he said. “There is not a line in this bill that would affect anyone who is peacefully protesting. Who it will affect, who it will affect are people who are being violent.”
As the bill’s written, the driver of a red truck that ran through protesters in Tallahassee over the summer wouldn’t face charges or civil action if a convicted protester was hurt as he escaped after inadvertently ending up in the middle.
“It’s promoting vigilantism of the worst kind, and so, that’s what my amendment would do, it would remove that from the bill,” State Rep. Fentrice Driskell said of the measure.
Driskell knew the amendments would all be voted down.
“You know, we have to continue to fight,” Driskell said. “We have to continue to raise the arguments and at least try to use this process to make a piece of legislation better.”
The House will take a final vote Friday, but the bill is in trouble in the Senate where it has yet to be heard.
At this point, Sprowls didn’t anticipate any deals or compromises would be reached.
“That is not a conversation they have had with me,” he said.
But the clock is ticking and both Sprowls and Gov. Ron DeSantis have gone on national television, saying they were going to pass the toughest law in the nation. DeSantis said last week he believed a deal would be reached by the end of session.